Saturday, May 28, 2011

Samedi: The Two Jeans

Storytelling is, of course, an ancient art and no individual culture has a claim to it.  All people in all times have told each other stories for amusement, time passing, teaching or – as in my case – pure visceral delight.  It is unfortunate that so much storytelling has been taken from us.  Though we have voluntarily given up our imaginations to movies, TV and XboX, our willingness to turn over something so dear doesn’t make the loss any more horrible. 

That’s why I like to remember – and retell – the stories from the places I hold dear.  Here in Alaska, Native stories are retold often in various forms and the same holds true for my ancestral, spiritual and cultural home, Louisiana.  So for the next few Saturdays and for your enjoyment more than anything, a version of an old story that actually originated in Spain.  Folklorists believe it came to the New World with Africans who were either enslaved by or in the service of Spaniards.  Versions of tales of the two Jeans (or Juans or Johns) exist in the Caribbean (particularly Puerto Rico), the Philippines, South America and Louisiana.  The stories are often quite funny but also horrifically morbid which may point to people trying to deal with unbearable misery through humor.  This is a story that I remember hearing when I was young and that, frankly, never gets old.

Ti Jean lived next door to Jean Gran and they were always trying to outdo one another.  Ti Jean was little but smart while Jean Gran was big and burly but dumb as a mule.  One day, Jean Gran said to Ti Jean “I’m tired of your horse kicking my house all night.  Tie him up someplace else or I’ll kill him.” 

Ti Jean didn’t pay Jean Gran any notice and left his horse where he was.  Jean Gran killed the horse just as he said he would but Ti Jean still didn’t pay him notice.  Instead, he butchered the horse taking its hide off in one piece.  Then he took the hide and went down the road until it started to rain.  He stopped at the first house he saw and knocked.  A woman came to the door and Ti Jean said “Can I come in, ma’am?”

“No,” the woman replied.  “My husband ain’t home.  You can wait under the eaves if you like but I can’t let you in.”

Ti Jean thanked the lady, threw the horsehide around him and sat down under the drippy eaves to wait.  Sooner than later the woman’s husband came home.  He asked Ti Jean what he was about and Ti Jean told him.  The husband opened his door and yelled “Woman!  Why you let this poor man sit out here in the wet?”

“You weren’t home,” the wife called back.

“Well I’m home now.  Come on in, sir.  Warm up and have a bite.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Ti Jean and he went into the house with his horse hide dripping on the clean floor.  The husband and Ti Jean sat down at the table and the wife looked at them sternly.

“Nothing but tea in this house and it’s gone cold,” she said.

“Tea would be just fine, ma’am,” Ti Jean said.

The wife brought the tea and Ti Jean put his horsehide down at his feet where he started to step on it.  The wet hide made a whine and a squeal.

“What’s that now,” the husband said.  “That damn horsehide talking to you?”

“Oh yes,” Ti Jean said.  “It’s magic.”

“So what does it say?” the wife asked.

“Says you go to the sideboard, you’ll find plenty to eat ma’am.”

The wife hesitated and stared at Ti Jean as if he was crazy.  “Go on, woman,” the husband said.  “You go or I will.”  So she went and sure enough there was bread and ham, cheese and fresh greens.

The wife brought all this grudgingly to the table, where she found that Ti Jean’s horsehide was once again speaking out loud.  “What’s that sad old hide say now?” she asked.  “My husband like to shit gold?”

“Oh no ma’am,” Ti Jean replied.  “It tells us you forgot the wine.”

The husband jumped up and, opening the sideboard, he found several bottles of wine.  “Damn,” he said.  “Sir, you got to sell me that hide.”

“Well…”  Ti Jean took a long time to think about it.  “I’m going to need two baskets of silver for it.”

The husband agreed, although his wife protested vehemently.  When the husband came out of the back room with two baskets of silver Ti Jean turned over that drippy, smelly hide.  He waited a moment and then he said “Give me back the hide now.  I think it wants to tell you something more.”

The husband did just as Ti Jean asked and Ti Jean made the hide whine and squeal once again.  “It says you better look in the barrel in your larder,” Ti Jean said at last.

Well the husband ran to the barrel next to the sideboard and opened it, fully expecting to find the gold his wife spoke of earlier for there had been no food or wine in the sideboard when he left or so his wife told him.  Instead of gold in the barrel, he found the Devil trying to get out.  The husband slapped the top on the barrel and looked frantically at Ti Jean.  “You got to take this barrel with you.”

“Just like the hide said,” Ti Jean replied.  “Give me another basket of silver and I’ll take it right now.”

The wife screamed for her husband not to do it but he turned over another basket of silver to Ti Jean.  “Thank you indeed,” Ti Jean said and then he took his baskets – and an empty barrel – on down the road.

So far Ti Jean’s tricks have paid off, but will they continue to do so?  We’ll find out a little more next week.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Calhoun's Slaves by William Aiken Walker

4 comments:

Timmy! said...

Fun story, Pauline! I'm looking forward to teh next installment.

Pauline said...

I love this story, and Ti Jean reminds me of a certain redhead I know...

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Pauline said...

Merci beaucoup. Please come back anytime.